2011 Toronto International Film Festival

DailyXY’s TIFF coverage is sponsored by the Alliance film, The Ides of March

We’ve reached the halfway point of TIFF madness, and the physical symptoms are showing. There’s that shaky, dehydrated feeling that comes from an excess of caffeine, not to mention the mojitos, sea breezes and what-have-yous scoffed at the innumerable late-night TIFF parties.

Thankfully, the frenzy begins to flag from here. The festival intentionally frontloads the big-name movies and press conferences. Look no further for proof than the fact that much of the international industry and press have booked flights to leave by today.

An underdog TIFF hit is shaping up to be Paul Williams Still Alive, a documentary portrait of the ’70s songwriter who gave us pop classics like “We’ve Only Just Begun” (Carpenters), “Evergreen” (Streisand) and Muppets gem “The Rainbow Connection,” while scoring and acting in Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise. Williams has been relegated to pop trivia footnote in recent years, but the reportedly compelling portrait by super-fan Stephen Kessler is putting him back on the map.

Will catch the flick soon, but did enjoy its launch party at fun rock ‘n roll bar Cherry Cola’s. The calamari and martinis were first-class, and Williams was damn gracious, smiling for pix, autographing and clearly enjoying himself. Yes, he really is that short, but he looked in fine fettle for a guy turning 71 this week and who reportedly had some of those pesky substance problems.

As an antidote to the hype-draped Hollywood fare — life is too short to spend two hours watching new Madonna vanity project, W.E, though a colleague said it borders on “so bad, it’s great” territory — I have also been exploring some of the under-the-radar TIFF entries and came up with a real gem. The Last Dogs of Winter is a New Zealand documentary with a Canadian setting and theme.

Last Dogs is a portrayal of Brian Ladoon, an intrepid resident of Churchill, Manitoba who has spent the last 35 years fighting to ensure the survival of the Canadian Eskimo Dog (Qimmiq). There is stunning footage of the bleak terrain, cute shots of dogs cavorting with polar bears and genuine human drama. Added to the mix is young New Zealand actor Caleb Ross (The Tribe), who quit showbiz to help Ladoon’s cause for the past three years. I interviewed Ross and writer/director Costa Botes (of moc-doc Forgotten Silver fame), and their honest and unpretentious passion was as bracing as an Arctic breeze.

Speaking of honest passion, not to mention Manitoba, there’s a new Neil Young doc, Life, showing today. I’m checking it out, and expecting it to be a very different kind of unpretentious and bracing, much like the man himself.

Image courtesy of TIFF.

DailyXY’s TIFFtown blog is sponsored by the Alliance film, The Ides of March.
"TIFFtown" is sponsored by the Alliance film, The Ides of March.

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